Brian Croft jokes that masks are the new “color of the carpet argument” in churches, with similarly poor outcomes. Pastors are resigning from the stress “kind of in a way I’ve never really seen.”
The founder of Practical Shepherding transitioned from fulltime pastoring to lead the shepherding outreach fulltime in January, pulled by a need for coaching and counseling that has steadily increased among pastors over the past decade.
Then came COVID-19.
“I know of pastors who are quitting just over the stress of this issue and what it’s causing in their churches, and I know churches splitting over whether you should wear a mask or not,” Croft said. “COVID-19 has impacted every pastor to some degree. Usually it has brought more challenges and more difficulty.”
Pastors are pulled by conflicting views among congregants over whether to mask or not to mask, whether to meet in person or virtually, or whether social distancing is even necessary. A divisive political year has compounded the issues, Croft said.
“Once masks and no masks got politicized, and once masks and no masks became about what’s right and what’s wrong, instead of about what is an individual’s conscience on the matter, then that’s where these unnecessary divisions started setting in, in a really unhealthful way,” Croft said. “That’s pretty much what’s happening all over the place. … And this is global too. I work with pastors all over the world.”
Though Croft is not a statistician and does not have hard numbers, he counsels and coaches hundreds of pastors through Practical Shepherding. He is also an adjunct professor and senior fellow for the Mathena Center for Church Revitalization at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Lifeway Research, describing pastors as resilient, said about 250 pastors are known to leave the ministry each month, as opposed to a “prevailing myth” that the number is 1,500-1,700.
Croft is eager to see what statistics will indicate once the pandemic ceases.
“There are pastors in Africa, there are pastors in Scotland and England, there are pastors in Brazil. I mean there are pastors everywhere who are having to wade through these waters of just disagreement around should the church gather or not,” Croft said, “because it’s not just an opinion about your mask or no mask, it’s politicized, it’s wrapped up in fear for a lot of people, or frustration over the people who are in fear. So people are not really wired and prone to just love one another where they are.
“These divisions have just kind of imploded some churches.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ senior writer.)